[This post is a segment of the Trash to Treasure: Changing Waste Streams to Profit Streams report.]
Waste production is a serious problem for all American companies and industries. The largest 5,589 publically traded businesses in the United States sent 342 million metric tons of waste to landfills and incinerators in 2014. That is the equivalent of sending the weight of three Empire State Buildings to a landfill every day.
Removing unwanted resources to landfills or incinerators is a costly proposition in the price of removal, in the value of the resources being destroyed, and in the social impacts of greater waste amounts. By not accurately estimating, measuring, and managing their waste streams, American companies are throwing away significant opportunities for profit and increased efficiency, and improved brand.
Waste manifests itself before, during, and after the production process because production can be inefficient and wasted resources are not captured effectively. Waste affects all industries regardless of size and whether they are manufacturing products or offering services.
There are significant opportunities for companies to properly value their waste streams and make changes to their processes to take greater advantage of cost savings and new profit streams. For some companies, those opportunities exist in their own value and production chains. They can improve the efficiency of processes, package goods more effectively, and find ways to sell or donate their waste as raw materials for other companies.
For others, those opportunities exist outside of their companies. Some can work with consumers of their goods to get used products back for refurbishing, while others can develop industrial services to treat waste or turn it into energy. In all these cases, improving the ability of companies to measure and eliminate their waste are important steps to capturing lost opportunities.
By understanding the size and value of the waste stream, and how to monetize it, companies can reduce waste going to landfills and incinerators. In addition, longterm solutions include incorporating more sustainable closed-loop manufacturing processes to limit waste or rethinking the system entirely, shifting to a circular economy in which waste is designed out entirely.
Reconfiguring manufacturing and production to reduce waste and embrace more circular economy models can be a challenging prospect for any company regardless of size. That’s why the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Corporate Citizenship Center (CCC), and our partners prepared this report to educate businesses across all industries about those opportunities.
To illustrate some of the ways that circular economy thinking can help eliminate waste and turn trash into treasure, this report also looks at how companies like Walmart, DSM, IBM, General Motors, Bridgestone, Dow, Veolia, Caterpillar, and Republic Services have been able to do just that.
This report was prepared with Trucost, experts in environmental data and natural capital valuation, who contributed data and analysis on the amounts, types, and flows of the waste produced by companies. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation contributed insights with broader strategies about how to capture that value and thematic support. Many have suggested “waste is a resource in the wrong place.” This paper quantifies that statement and offers actionable ways to put waste in the right place.